Dolphin Do's and Don'ts
Ten tips to help you put more mahimahi in the fish box.
- Published:March 13, 2017
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Anglers love these terrific fighters because they spend as much time in the air as they do in the water when hooked, and dolphin pull hard down deep, using their broad heads and flat bodies to the full effect. On top of all that, dolphin live with the curse of a delicious, white, flaky meat that’s easy to freeze.
Dolphin grow and reproduce at staggering rates. Dolphin can put on 10 to 15 pounds a year and start spawning at three months of age. As a result, 90 percent of the dolphin that anglers encounter offshore are less two years of age and weigh 30 pounds or less. A three-year-old dolphin can weigh in between 50 and 60 pounds and 4-year-old fish and older are the true giants, reaching 80 pounds or more.
This incredible fertility has kept mahimahi populations relatively stable. With all that growing and making babies, dolphin rarely pass up a chance to eat, and they spend most of their time looking for patches of bounty in the great big empty. Anything floating on or near the surface will collect algae and other forms of plant and animal life over time. This flotsam usually holds the small batifish that feed on those tiny organisms… and that’s also what the dolphin are after. Whenever you’re fishing offshore your eyes should never stop scanning the horizon for floating debris, weed patches or current rips.
Pulling your baits close to any large floating object in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream or the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico will almost guarantee a dolphin bite if you are the first boat on the debris. Dolphin are not shy and any bait remotely close to the size of a fish they can physically get in their mouth will be consumed with a vengeance. And while you may see tiny dolphin attacking baits or lures way bigger than they could ever eat, it is true that bigger baits attract and catch monster mahi.
"Pulling your baits close to any large floating object in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream or the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico will almost guarantee a dolphin bite..."
The biggest dolphin I ever caught in Florida was well over 50 pounds and it ended up eating a 16-ounce glow jig that I was using for grouper in 250 feet of water. The mahi followed the jig up and ate it right between the outboards. I was using a Penn Senator spooled with 100-pound mono and a locked-up drag to yank grouper out of the rocks… The resulting fight was interesting to say the least. The fish drug me around the boat three times before my friend sunk the gaff in a very large, green dolphin and heaved it onto the deck. At that point we scattered to the bow and waited for the dolphin to die as it beat the back of the boat into a bloody mess. Good times.
TEN DOLPHIN TIPS
1. Find floating debris and/or working birds in warm water and you’ll find dolphin.
2. If you don’t see dolphin around the weed patches, throw out some chum. Any activity can get mahimahi to come running.
3. While circle hooks troll well for most species, use J-hooks when targeting dolphin. The speed at which dolphin attack and run with the bait can make hooking them difficult on circle hooks. Dolphin try to steal food from one another and that’s why they take off so fast when they eat something. If you have a bunch of small dolphin around the boat, switch back to circles if you plan to catch and release.
4. Naked baits always give you a better chance of a hookup, the less stuff around the hook the better.
5. Bigger dolphin lurk on the outskirts of a school, either down deep or out on the edges. Use downriggers when trolling or a deep bait when drifting to target larger fish. A long cast with a top-water pug can sometimes get a bite out of a giant as well.
6. Target bigger dolphin with big lures and baits. (My friend caught an 80-pounder on a Black Bart Braziliano meant for blue marlin in Cabo San Lucas.)
7. Keep a dolphin’s head in the water when gaffing. If you lift its head the fish will jump and shake making for a difficult target. You don’t want to look like a lumberjack either, a smooth stroke is better than a violent jerk. Aim for the eyeballs to avoid messing up your meat and always have a place to put the fish BEFORE you sink the gaff. A green dolphin loose in the cockpit is dangerous for the crew and can wreak havoc on the boat.
8. Keep one dolphin on the line and in the water to attract its schoolmates. However, once the first fish stops spitting up bits of fish, the other ones will start to ignore it, so you’ll need to bring that one in and replace it with a new chumming decoy. Rotating fresh decoys will get you to your limit fast.
9. One of my favorite big dolphin (and wahoo) baits is a large, double-hooked, split-tail mullet and a 2-ounce black-and-red SeaWitch rigged on #8 or #9 wire. Fished way back on the shotgun, this combo has caught quite a few big dolphin and wahoo for me over the years.
10. No matter what color you prefer, you can’t go wrong with a dead ballyhoo and some sort of Iland Lure combo.
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